ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest was in his native India in 2007 when he was charged with sexually assaulting a teenage girl at his former post in Minnesota. Three years later, he is still serving as a priest in India with the blessing of his local bishop.
And the Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul has no intention of returning to the U.S. to answer the charges.
His bishop said Jeyapaul handles paperwork for schools in the diocese office and does not work with children.
"We cannot simply throw out the priest, so he is just staying in the bishop's house, and he is helping me with the appointment of teachers," said the Most Rev. A. Almaraj of the Diocese of Ootacamund in southern India. "He says he is innocent, and these are only allegations. ... I don't know what else to do."
The Vatican weighed in yesterday, saying that officials there thought Jeyapaul should be removed from the priesthood and that they cooperated with efforts to extradite him to the U.S. — even providing authorities with his exact location in India.
But they said the bishop in India refused to remove him and instead sentenced the priest to a year in a monastery after holding his own church trial.
Critics of the Catholic Church have seized on the case as another example of what they said is a practice of protecting child-molesting priests from the law.
Jeyapaul was one of many foreign priests brought to help fill shortages in U.S. parishes. Last year, about one-quarter of the newly ordained priests in the United States were foreign-born, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
Jeyapaul, 55, came to Minnesota in 2004 and was assigned to work at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenbush, a town of fewer than 1,000 people just south of the Canadian border. In 2005, he went to India to visit his ailing mother.